MEET THE GRADS: A love of the game led Honeycutt down unexpected path from athlete to entrepreneur
During her time as a student at West Virginia University, Noelle Honeycutt has been recognized on campus as a leader, an engineer, an athlete – and most recently, as an entrepreneur.
The latter is an unexpected designation for Honeycutt, a mechanical engineering major at the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources who will graduate along with nearly 4,500 of her classmates during this weekend’s commencement’s ceremonies. In fact, she still smiles to herself when she thinks about her newest title: business owner.
“When I think about my path, I can’t believe I’m graduating with ‘entrepreneur’ on my resume,” Honeycutt said. “There were so many goals I planned for myself when I started college at WVU, but I never dreamed I would be starting my own business.”
Honeycutt won the lifestyle category in this year’s West Virginia Statewide Business Plan Competition, awarding her $10,000 in seed funds to propel her entrepreneurial brainchild, GoPlay Enterprises, a sports development company focused on improving the skills of coaches and players in youth sports while promoting a love of the game. The company’s vision is to develop mobile apps to teach coaches, communicate with parents and provide knowledge on the sport.
It was a fortuitous venture for a young woman who spent three years of her college career as a dedicated athlete on the WVU Women’s Soccer team, which was a big draw in leading her from her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, to Morgantown.
“I spent 15 years playing soccer,” Honeycutt said. “I started playing in my neighborhood and in recreation leagues as a kid and it just stuck with me. I always aspire to be the best I can be at everything I do, and soccer was really the first commitment that taught me to push my boundaries and excel.”
Soccer wasn’t the only passion that ignited Honeycutt to excel. She also discovered an interest in engineering as a child that she knew would one day guide her to a career.
“Engineering was always my path,” Honeycutt said. “I always loved cars; I was the kid who was always building things around the house. Math and history were my favorite subjects. As I grew up, I knew engineering would be a difficult major, but I also knew that my discipline from soccer would intersect and propel me to achieve.”
That was her plan. And as the oldest in her family of three kids and a self-declared ‘Type A’ overachiever, she was the type that made a plan and executed it. Always.
“From the time I was a kid, I always needed a plan for everything,” Honeycutt said. “I laid out my plan early on: I was going to go to college, play soccer for four years, major in engineering and work as an engineer.”
When it came time for Honeycutt to choose a college to execute her plan, it didn’t take long for her to decide that it was WVU or bust.
“I visited campus and I just fell in love with the atmosphere and energy of WVU, the soccer program and the engineering program,” she said. “I knew this was it and that WVU could be my home away from home.”
But what Honeycutt didn’t know is that she would find herself deviating from her plan during her years at WVU – and while it was uncomfortable at first, it would ultimately turn into the biggest opportunity of her college career.
“I loved every minute of playing on the WVU Women’s Soccer team, but I just had an epiphany one day that it was time to move on,” Honeycutt said. “I was in a challenging course of study with my engineering major, and I just realized that it was time to prioritize my career and focus on the future.”
Honeycutt was resolute in her decision, and her junior year was her last playing under the lights at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
As she looked to find her way in an unfamiliar existence the summer prior to her senior year, Honeycutt received an email about taking an entrepreneurship and technology course. She signed up and soon found herself starting her senior year and learning about the fundamentals of charting a vision for a business – which all started with an idea.
“As part of the requirement for the class, Ms. [Fonda] Holehouse [the professor] assigned us to write a business plan and enter it in the Statewide Business Plan Competition,” Honeycutt said. “She encouraged us to do what we knew. I knew soccer.”
When Honeycutt entered the first round of the Business Plan Competition in September, she never dreamed she would actually be starting a business.
“I didn’t know anything about business when I entered the competition,” Honeycutt said. “I really had to prepare. I knew I was passionate about uniting parents and coaches together, so I conceived my one-stop shop idea for improving the experiences of coaches and players in youth sports from my time playing soccer and just ran with it.”
Honeycutt credits the skills she learned on the soccer field to accelerating her business idea – and ultimately, giving her a check for $10,000 to fund that idea.
“As a soccer player, you have to learn how to apply what you’ve been taught, trust your gut instincts and just go for it,” Honeycutt said. “You have to combine those instincts with a clear understanding of your goal and be disciplined enough to focus on achieving it. The combination of those skills is what guided me to win the BPC and successfully move forward with GoPlay Enterprises.”
Never one to rest on her laurels, Honeycutt plans to focus on growing her business following Commencement while dually pursuing full-time opportunities in the mechanical engineering field.
When asked if she has any wisdom to impart as a result of her experiences, Honeycutt said she would encourage her peers to allow themselves to step outside of their comfort zone – and not to be afraid to deviate from their plan.
“My entire experience at WVU was changed for the better because I was part of the Business Plan Competition,” Honeycutt said. “I’m so grateful that I trusted in God’s plan to take me in a different direction than what I had planned and that it gave me this opportunity.”
Now, as Honeycutt concludes a semester-long internship at the Toyota plant in Buffalo where she worked on the construction of transmissions used in their Camry models, she’s ready for the future – as an engineer, a business owner and a WVU alumna.
It’s a resume that’s worded a bit differently than she envisioned four years ago, but one that she is embracing with all of her heart.
“My time at West Virginia University has given me wonderful opportunities, some of which were unexpected,” Honeycutt said. “I know that I am who I am because of everything I’ve experienced here and the support I received along the way from my coaches, professors and mentors. I know I’m entering the world with the knowledge and experience I need to successfully run a business and balance a career in the manufacturing industry.”
“I will always be glad that I chose West Virginia University and I will forever be proud to be a Mountaineer.”
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